05/05/2005 12:00AM

Kentucky Derby analysis


When he crushed the Wood Memorial by more than 17 lengths while earning a colossal 120 Beyer Speed Figure, Bellamy Road did more than seize the role of Kentucky Derby favorite. The performance also stamped him as a potential freak. Aside from low odds and an abbreviated two-start spring campaign, he enters with many attributes.

Bellamy Road is the fastest horse by about seven lengths, and he benefits from the pace scenario. The field includes several pressers, but only one other outclassed front-runner to his inside. Bellamy Road trains super at Churchill, and repositioning the Wood to four weeks before the Derby provided him time to revitalize.

Bellamy Road would be the third winning favorite in six years; his flaw is lack of seasoning. Sunny's Halo won the 1983 Derby off two preps; favorites Point Given (2001) and Talkin Man (1995) fell short off two preps. But the modern trend is abbreviated campaigns, which means Bellamy Road can win in pace-pressing fashion.

Afleet Alex looms a sensible alternative. His Arkansas Derby smash earned a 108 Beyer, equaling the Derby par. A division leader since last summer, the 6-for-9 colt's versatility allows him to adapt to pace. He has no flaw, and higher odds than the top choice.

Buzzards Bay should outrun his odds. His Santa Anita Derby win was relatively slow, but he has improved each start this spring, and 3-year-olds typically continue their upward pattern. Buzzards Bay is not fast enough yet, but he continues to train with zeal, he can finish, and may hit the board at a big price.

Bandini enters with past performances very similar to those of his sire, Fusaichi Pegasus, the Derby winner five years ago. Bandini raced this winter and spring at Gulfstream Park and Keeneland, however, and there is doubt about the quality of those Derby preps.

Improving Coin Silver is first-time Patrick Valenzuela. Giacomo is a battle-tested grinder who will finish. High Limit and Closing Argument will press part way. Noble Causeway should stay 1 1/4 miles; High Fly might not.

Wilko, Flower Alley, Andromeda's Hero, and Sort It Out will pick up pieces. Sun King appears slow; Greeley's Galaxy appears outclassed. Greater Good, Going Wild, and Spanish Chestnut appear off form. Don't Get Mad wants one turn.


Bellamy Road
Afleet Alex
Buzzards Bay
BandiniNorth Carolina won the NCAA basketball championship this spring for a simple reason: talent. Analyze trends all you want, but generally success comes down to ability. Racing is no different. The leading jockeys and trainers win the most races because they are associated with the best horses.

Bellamy Road is the best horse in this year's Kentucky Derby. His Wood Memorial victory was one of those jaw-dropping performances that should have won over most everyone in the wagering world, but surprisingly did not. He is 5-2 on the track morning line for the Derby, and he may drift higher than that price.

Few want to support the "obvious" horse, choosing to focus on secondary handicapping factors like workouts, pedigree, race tactics, and preparation. Look past all the talk about whether he can he rate and whether the pace will be too demanding. Focus on the keys: form, class, and speed figures. And there is no better measure of those traits than his recent 17 1/2-length triumph in the Grade 1 Wood. Bellamy Road wins the Kentucky Derby.

Bandini has made rapid improvement in recent months, capped by an easy win in the Blue Grass Stakes over a field that was top to bottom the best of any Derby prep.

The Louisiana Derby winner, High Limit, is better than he showed in finishing second in the Blue Grass. His stock has fallen in recent weeks, providing value for those with faith in his ability.

Afleet Alex has been a game and consistent performer throughout his career, but is likely to be an overbet second choice in the wagering. He has been getting too much credit for his victory in the Arkansas Derby, a race Smarty Jones won last year before taking the Kentucky Derby. Ten Most Wanted was similarly overbet in the 2003 Derby after winning the Illinois Derby - a race in which the 2002 Derby winner, War Emblem, had successfully prepped the preceding year.


Bellamy Road
High Limit
Afleet AlexThe key to this race is your opinion of Bellamy Road. He looked sensational in his 17 1/2-length triumph in the Wood, and the 120 Beyer he earned in that victory would probably win this race by a wide margin. The concern is that his big allowance win in his first start as a 3-year-old was a career-best Beyer Figure by a 14-point margin, and he added another 24 points in the Wood. Either he is a budding superstar, or he is due for serious regression. Speaking as a racing fan I hope he is a superstar, but when I lay my money down as a bettor I will look for regression at underlaid odds.

There is enough early speed in this field to set the race up for a closer, and Afleet Alex looks like the one most likely to capitalize. He won the Arkansas Derby by eight lengths, and finished strongly with a 36.02-second come-home time during the last three furlongs, and an 11.74 final furlong. That kick should enable him to pass the tiring speedsters and pull clear. He'll offer a square price.

Greeley's Galaxy has improved in all three of his races since his debut. He was especially impressive while improving both his pace figure and his Beyer significantly in the Illinois Derby. He can continue to move forward in his fifth career start, and will offer good betting value to win and in the exotics.

Don't Get Mad was helped by the pace scenario in the Derby Trial, but he still deserves credit for making a strong move to win going away. He is sharp enough to find his way into the exotics, or to possibly win it all at a big price if he enjoys another easy trip. Don't overlook him.

Using a $120 bankroll, I will bet $30 to win on Afleet Alex. I'll also play a $10 exacta box of Afleet Alex, Greeley's Galaxy, and Don't Get Mad, and $10 exacta savers keying Bellamy Road over Afleet Alex, Greeley's Galaxy, and Don't Get Mad.


Afleet Alex
Greeley's Galaxy
Don't Get Mad
Bellamy RoadBellamy Road does not conform to time-honored historical standards, but the times they are a-changing. Less is more when it comes to readying top-class horses for major objectives nowadays, as Nick Zito understood full well winning last year's Travers with Birdstone off a 12-week layoff.

Sunny's Halo (1983) was the last Kentucky Derby winner with two preps, but really, can anyone remember a horse coming off two races that included as mind-boggling a performance as Bellamy Road's Wood?

Greatness breaks the rules. Bellamy Road can bounce off his 120 Beyer and still win, but what if he doesn't regress at all? It's hard to imagine a significant pratfall off a tour de force with his rider blowing kisses to the crowd long before the wire.

Can he work out a good trip? Once the gates open the most carefully plotted strategy can go out the window, so no one really knows. But no one knows what any horse's trip will be. Bellamy Road's natural speed gives him a strong chance of avoiding traffic, and as Zito had hoped for, he is drawn outside the outclassed sacrificial rabbit Spanish Chestnut. Provided the long-striding Bellamy Road is in the clear in the first flight, which seems a probable development, the relaxed manner in which he won the Wood suggests he will settle off the pace and move to the lead as soon as Spanish Chestnut quits.

Bandini is a handy little colt with an improving line of figures who was able to win the Blue Grass three wide throughout, no easy thing at Keeneland. By the lightly raced Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, he has been 1 1/8 miles in his last three starts while showing strong competitive instincts, and has better classic bloodlines than most of these.

Afleet Alex is solid from all historical standpoints, and comes off a smasher, blowing a slow-paced Arkansas Derby wide open. To my mind, though, he is more susceptible to a regression than Bellamy Road, because his new peak effort came right after getting over a lung infection.

Noble Causeway is similar to Bandini: no backward steps on Beyers, and three races at 1 1/8 miles under his belt. His late-running style often plays well in the Derby.


Bellamy Road
Afleet Alex
Noble CausewayI came to Kentucky with every intention of picking against the favorite, Bellamy Road, who comes in with only two starts under his belt at 3 and is likely to face some pace pressure for the first time this year. That being said, after watching him gallop and seeing the amazing way he strode out during his final Derby work, it's hard not to think of him as the most talented member of the field. And with any racing luck, he figures to prevail.

For those still inclined to go against the favorite, Sun King and Wilko could prove attractive alternatives at what figure to be double-digit odds. Sun King was the king of trainer Nick Zito's barn until his subpar performance in the Blue Grass, but he has rebounded with a nice work over the Churchill strip and some strong gallops earlier this week. Toss his last over a quirky Keeneland track, and he may be as good as any of the others. Wilko comes out of a disappointing Santa Anita Handicap, but he was hung wide throughout that day, has already proven his mettle at this level in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, and appears to be peaking at the right time if last weekend's final Derby work in California is a true indication.

Flower Alley is another who is moving in the right direction at the right time. The addition of blinkers might give him enough of an added boost to put him in the thick of things at a square price.

Bandini and Afleet Alex both have done well since coming to Churchill Downs and are certainly among the handful of win threats in the field, but they, more than Bellamy Road, seem eligible to bounce at relatively short odds after putting in huge Derby prep performances.

Noble Causeway and High Fly give Zito two more solid chances at the big prize but may be just a notch below stablemates Bellamy Road and Sun King.

High Limit couldn't be training better coming into the race, but I'm just not confident that he'll handle the extra distance.


Bellamy Road
Sun King
Flower AlleyWith both of his wins this year achieved by an average margin of more than 16 1/2 lengths, and having earned an amazing Beyer Speed Figure of 120 in his Wood Memorial score, Bellamy Road may be miles better than the rest of this field. But Bellamy Road will likely be denied the early lead Saturday, which would be a first for him going long, as Spanish Chestnut and Going Wild figure to be sending at all costs. Bellamy Road may rate, but this is an inopportune time to have to show it. Moreover, he has had only two prep races for this. Bellamy Road could certainly win, but when it comes to betting on him as the favorite, the risk may not be worth the reward.

I'm going with Noble Causeway for the upset. Noble Causeway blossomed at Gulfstream Park, where the 3-year-olds as a group were better than anywhere else in the country. He was a rallying second last time out in the Florida Derby after going wide on the far turn, and his pattern is very similar to the one Bandini showed going into his breakthrough win in the Blue Grass. Noble Causeway is certainly capable of further improvement, and his closing style figures to be complemented by what should be a strong early pace.

Afleet Alex has run big in 8 of 9 career starts, but he never ran bigger than he did in his emphatic win most recently in the Arkansas Derby. Some are making a big deal about his fast final eighth-mile clocking in that race, which could be a mistake as I swear the stretch at Oaklawn is downhill. Nevertheless, Afleet Alex's closing kick was impressive considering it was into a pedestrian pace.

High Fly beat Noble Causeway in the Florida Derby, and this once-beaten colt also defeated subsequent Blue Grass winner Bandini when he won the Fountain of Youth. High Fly trips out well because he is capable of stalking from close range, but there is a nagging feeling that 10 furlongs may be one furlong too far.

Longshots I'm most interested in for exotic wagers are Flower Alley and Buzzards Bay. Flower Alley ran in spots when second in the Arkansas Derby, and blinkers on will help. Buzzards Bay hails from California, where the 3-year-old preps were soft, but he'll be a huge price for a Santa Anita Derby winner.


Noble Causeway
Bellamy Road
Afleet Alex
High Fly